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[ Opinion ]

Should You Date In Early Recovery? Here’s How It Worked Out For Me

To date or not to date.

This is a big topic in recovery when someone is a newcomer to “the rooms” (of 12 step groups).

Generally the “rule” goes you don’t date anyone for the first year.

If you get a hardcore old timer they’ll tell you to go buy a plant and if it’s still alive after one year THEN you are ready to date.

While I will not give you a definite yes or no answer as to this often asked question, I will share my own personal experience.

Prior to coming to the rooms and starting a new way of life, let’s just say I had women/relationship problems.

I was a womanizer in the sense that I would easily fall head over heels in love before even really knowing someone else. I was co-dependent, and when you are new to recovery, a lot of times you’ll gravitate toward looking for a significant other to fill that void.

I won’t tell you my old nicknames or how I handled ending relationships ending – just know that I did so in an immature way.

After 3 months of treatment in 2011 ( which started in a lovely locked-down unit of the local psych ward.) I moved into a co-ed sober living.

Of course I did what I always did and immediately saw someone I thought would fill that void that the substances used to fill. I set my sights on her, and then my addictive personality took over.

She had considerably more sobriety than me (about 9 more months) and I eventually got her attention after some initial hesitation on her part concerning my newness to sobriety. This is often the case for people new in recovery, and a lot of the times, it seems like it’s a battle within one’s head, brought on by a sponsor that disapproves of dating and the urge to do what feels compulsive. (See any similarities here?)

In any case, the compulsion won, and the two of us started dating.

The biggest problem was that I was more interested on working on my relationship than on myself. I had yet to reach a level of complete authenticity within myself, and I hadn’t fully surrendered to my disease. I would go to meetings, I had an ineffective “sponsor”, I was more familiar with his voicemail than him. 

I thought I had it all under control, but in reality, It was just a matter of time before something would go wrong, I was relying to much on my own way of thinking. 

Sure enough, having only become a “dry drunk” or “static addict” I eventually relapsed. I won’t go into details…let’s just say it was bad…but I had somehow convinced myself it was nothing compared to what I was doing prior to my meltdown in 201. Convincing myself that things aren’t “that bad”, seems to be a theme with me.

Here is where dating in early recovery becomes a problem – the odds of two people making it through their first year of sobriety are not all that great, and when you pair that with the odds of making it through the first year of a relationship, well, the odds grow even larger against you.

Even though I was using, I didn’t want to let go of my relationship with this woman. So I kept my relapse a secret while my girlfriend stayed sober, and watched me self-destruct.

Eventually it got so bad I had no other choice but to come clean, and fortunately I did. I knew I would need to do things differently this time, so I made recovery priority number one. This is not an easy thing to do, it involves sacrificing almost everything that I thought was “stable”. It’s our human nature to be afraid of change, we don’t like letting go of things that we are familiar with, routines that have become a part of our identity. 

As hard as this concept was, I was finally “willing” to do whatever it took. I quit my job as an insurance agent, moved out of the house I was living at, put all my stuff into storage, and checked myself into a “short-term intensive behavior modification program” the very next day.

Strangely enough, the one constant that I did not give up, was my girlfriend. She was more than understanding, and thankfully she was someone who was steady enough in her own sobriety, that she was willing to give me a chance to work through this. 

And guess what.. We are still together today.

In hindsight starting to date so early on worked out for me in the long run. Was it the best choice for me at the time? I don’t know, there are obviously distractions that came from this relationship that stalled my sobriety. However it worked out in the end, and I find myself today in the healthiest and most life-giving relationship of my life.

What I put her through…I will never know.

The heart ache and sleepless nights I caused her when I returned to active addiction will never be truly revealed to me.

So yes…this is a cautionary tale.

This is MY side of the tale…I am sure hers isn’t so cut-and-dry.

I lucked out in that she stuck by me when almost everyone was telling her to leave and move on…which of course she had every right to do so and it shocks me to this day she did not.

So….should you date in early recovery?

That’s for you to decide. I knowingly admit I beat some incredible odds, and I couldn’t in good conscious recommend dating in early sobriety or not.  

What I can admit, is that I was in no way shape or form ready to date someone in my early recovery, and I recognize that I am lucky, I recognize that the first year of our relationship was a very self-centered time for me.

So my only advice, is to take a good hard look at yourself… before turning your attention to others.